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updated: 10/27/2011 8:10 PM

Could a gambling compromise get done?

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  • Lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn continue to jockey for position over plans for slots at Arlington Park and a casino in Lake County.

    Lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn continue to jockey for position over plans for slots at Arlington Park and a casino in Lake County.
    Daily Herald photo


SPRINGFIELD -- With just three days left in the fall legislative session, a vote on gambling expansion has yet to be taken, but some leaders on the issue say that could be a good sign for proponents of bringing slot machines to Arlington Park and a new casino to Lake County.

Quinn's plan -- which favored five new casinos but excluded slot machines at horse racing tracks -- largely was expected to be rejected by the Illinois Senate this week.

Instead, no vote was called, and Sen. Terry Link says he plans to negotiate with Quinn next week, a development that could breathe new life into the recently languishing plans to expand gambling.

"I think it's good news," Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said. "I think this is the first step."

Yet, for a compromise to be reached, someone has to give on the issue of slot machines at horse racing tracks, a goal the Arlington Park brass plans to keep pushing for.

The factions aren't far apart on other issues. Link said he's happy to include Quinn's ethics suggestions into a compromise. And Quinn supported the five new casinos in the proposal approved by lawmakers earlier this year.

Yet, Quinn's exclusion of slot machines at racetracks sapped the support of many lawmakers. And his strong comments in opposition to the slot machines could make an about-face difficult for him.

Some hope Quinn could perhaps be persuaded to back off his position against slots at the tracks if lawmakers give him a host of gambling ethics reforms he's asked for.

Or lawmakers could perhaps abandon parts of the slot machines proposal -- eliminate the gambling machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, for example. Some of the debate this week among senators centered on money that casinos would pay out to race tracks -- cash that recently started to flow after the resolution of a lawsuit. It could play into a compromise.

Negotiations could get complicated, with lawmakers basing their support on what's in or out of a bill.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, is one lawmaker who has said the horse racing industry must be helped before he'd support a gambling expansion plan.

So is there enough common ground for Quinn and lawmakers to find?

"I don't know," Dillard said. Even if they do, their work wouldn't be done. Often, House and Senate lawmakers -- even of the same party -- can clash over proposals.

And plenty of opponents of gambling expansion remain in the Illinois House, including lawmakers who represent areas that already have casinos.

"It just tends to strangle the ones we have already," said Rep. Keith Farnham, a Democrat from Elgin, where the Grand Victoria Casino has suffered after the opening of the new Rivers Casino in Des Plaines.

Big legislative packages to expand gambling in Illinois have been tried many times before, but competing interests have previously always led to a stalemate.

This year has been different in that the same proposal was approved by the House and Senate for the first time, putting an Illinois governor in the drivers seat.

Quinn stepped on the brakes, though.

And despite planned efforts to compromise, some observers say the gambling plan could end up at stalemate once again.

"To me, it appears that way," said Rep. Tim Schmitz, a Batavia Republican and gambling opponent.

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